18 January 2009

Old-timey computer games

My family bought our first computer in 1990, when we moved to Utah. I'm fairly sure it was a 286 mhz PC with four megabtyes of RAM and 30 megabytes of hard drive space. Or was it two MB of RAM? Either way, it was awesome. I spent hours playing educational games like Challenge of the Ancient Empires! and Treasure Mountain! as well as the classic Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? 

Then a couple years later we upgraded to a 486 DX/2 processor with 32 MB of RAM or so and a CD-ROM drive. The sheer power, speed, and amazing graphics of it all just about blew my 11-year-old mind. We got our first non-educational games from a guy in our ward who helped us buy and put together the parts for the computer. While coming from an underprivilaged background when it came to video games (my parents never, ev
er let us get a Nintendo or Sega Genesis or whatever), I managed to do well at games like Terminal Velocity, King's Quest VI, and Sim City 2000

However, one game was extremely difficult for me to get a handle on. It was Return to Zork, one of the many sequels to the original text adventure Zork for the Commodore 64 (among other platforms).

Zork, as most text-based adventures, is known for it's often-obscure objectives and seemingly arbitrary ways to lose. Return to Zork was definitely a descendent of this game-programming philosophy. I had no idea what I was doing even as I spent hours trying to figure it out. I remember an old guy in a shack who constantly offered you alcohol ("Want some rye? 'Course ya do!"), a comedy club where you had to perform standup, and rats that gave you the hantavirus if you picked them up. Other highlights: some blacksmith guy, a plant, and a game that was kind of like chess but not really. 

I don't know what happened to that game (it's not at my parents' house anymore), but I sure as heck never came close to beating it. 

And that failure kind of bothered me.

Until a couple of months ago.

I was Googling random things related to my growing-up years, and came across a review for Return to Zork. Phrases like "incredibly contrived" and "illogical" came to my attention. When I read "Return to Zork is also notorious for being unforgiving," I smiled.

Another reviewer:

"...you will constantly lose objects by using them in the wrong place; mess up your chances of getting the required information or item from a character; wandering to wrong places at the wrong time, and so on. The amount of wrong actions you can do here is disproportional to the amount of correct actions that lead you to the goal. The game will be a constant exercise of reloading. Not to mention that the actions you have to perform have nothing to do with logic."

Bottom line: the game is ridiculously difficult for adults to play without a walkthrough guide, let alone pre-pubescent kids. My confidence in my gaming abilities were fully restored. 

That said, I'm somewhat interested in buying a copy of the game for $5 and giving it another go. Finding solutions to puzzles after hours of feeling like you're banging your head against a wall can be very rewarding. 


Brooke said...

I totally forgot about that game! that makes me kind of snicker that it made you feel a little like a gaming failure...not in a negative way though. :)

Josh said...

I think mom doesn't care if we play Age of Empires III, but dad, we play safe and wait.

Amy said...

Oh my gosh - that's the game where "Want some rye? 'Course ya do" comes from. I thought it was King's Quest. I remember you playing it...and that it was ridiculously hard. I didn't, and still don't, play computer games like that.